More Protests in Cambodia after Garment Factory Shuts Down, Doesn't Pay Salaries
In late May, 30 major clothing brands and unions met with Cambodian government officials to discuss the growing labor unrest in the country's garment industry. The visit, a follow-up to a meeting held just after the January, union-led strike that saw four people killed by military police and 25 protesters arrested and imprisoned, was a warning of sorts: If this keeps up, apparel companies might soon start sourcing elsewhere, putting Cambodia at risk of losing a significant portion of its $5 billion garment trade.
Not two weeks later, things aren't looking much better.
On Tuesday, some 400 workers began protesting outside the Hongkong Yufeng factory in Phnom Penh, which produces garments for Gap, Adidas and other international brands. They had arrived to find the building shut down and its owner gone, leaving employee salaries for May unpaid.
"Today is payday for the workers, and since the employer did not have the money to provide to the workers, he ran away yesterday evening," said Liv Tharin, president of the Independence of Democratic Youth Trade Unions, in The Cambodia Daily.
This is hardly an isolated incident. Also on Tuesday, a strike at the T&K garment factory—begun after employers refused a $0.50 daily lunch allowance for workers—ended when its owners threatened to cut salaries. Last month, 800 workers at Ocean Garment Factory protested when their employers announced a month-long shutdown with limited pay. And Open Development Cambodia's news page offers a laundry list of labor unrest headlines.
It all hints at the much larger issue looming over Cambodia's garment industry. The big apparel brands, worried about labor unrest—and perhaps spooked by the recent issues in Bangladesh—may already have begun sourcing elsewhere. (Gap recently announced it would begin garment production in Myanmar, a first for U.S. retailers.) But in doing so, those companies are spurring more unrest. The Phnom Penh Post reported that the Ocean Garment Factory shutdown was largely due to a reduction in orders from Gap and other companies, and the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia has noted a decrease in orders overall.
And while it's still unclear why the Hongkong Yufeng factory was shuttered, initial speculation centered on similar fears: "We do not know the reason behind [the owner] running away—whether Gap or Adidas stop [sic] orders or what," Tharin told The Cambodia Daily.